“The Doubt in Every Thomas” — John 20:24-29 — Pastor Greg Seckman

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The Doubt in Every Thomas

John 20:24-29

 

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If someone yells at you with urgency  “duck” – do you?  If you’re driving though an intersection, and your passenger shouts, “Watch out!” – will you?  If you’re on the golf course and someone yells “fore” – do you look around?  Even if you don’t see or hear the reason for the warning? do you blithely ignore it, or do you believe it, or at least believe it enough to check it out?  Chances are you will duck or watch out or turn around.

Why? Why do we believe the warning even if we do not see the reason for it? We believe because we trust the source of the warning.  We believe even if we do not see, because we have faith in the messenger.

In our well-known story from scripture today, we recount the narrative we have learned since Sunday school.  In fact, we’ve heard it so many times; the wonder has worn off.  Because of the repetition we lose sight of the miracle.  We take it for granted.

Our story today is about a fellow like that, a guy who honestly wrestles between faith and doubt.  If you are like that you may want to pay attention.  Let us pray:

Lord we believe, help thou our unbelief.[1]  Let our doubts become the soil from which faith springs.  Open the eyes of our hearts that we might believe and so see the hope and promise intend for us.[2]  Help us to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection that raises spirits that our down, hopes that have fallen, and a future we have surrendered.  Jesus Christ, be risen in us today we pray.  Amen.

Our story begins on Easter night.  His disciples were huddled in a room with doors locked and windows shut tight for fear they might be next, when Jesus resurrected suddenly appeared before them. The Bible specifically says, “He showed them the scars on his hands and feet and side?”

Now, why were the scars still there?  When the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 describes what our resurrected bodies will be like, he speaks of perfection, of bodies unblemished by age and wounds and scars, yet on Jesus the scars remain.  Why?

I think they are to serve as a reminder to everyone in heaven as to why they are in heaven.  I think when we see Jesus the wounds remind us that we will not be there because we “lived a good life”, “went to church”, “or because we were so nice we’d give someone the shirt off our backs.” We are there because of the scars.  We are there because of his sacrifice. Isaiah prophesied it this way, “by his stripes, his wounds we are healed.”  That’s why the scars remain.  They are like battle ribbons on a soldier’s uniform.  Jesus did not get to Easter Sunday by skipping Good Friday and neither do we.

This was enough to convince the disciples that he had risen.  He had risen indeed.  So, they were joyful and very excited and when people are joyful and very excited they just naturally want to talk about it.  You do it every time you discover a new restaurant, go to a good movie, or read a good book.  You just have to tell somebody about it, so you call up a friend and say, “You’ve got to try this new restaurant, see this movie, read this book.”

That’s what the disciples did.  The first one they talked to was one of their own who was absent that night – who missed it.  Thomas, for some reason was not there and we don’t know why.  Perhaps Thomas saw the crucifixion as utter defeat and so all that remained was to hole up somewhere and lick his wounds. People grieve in different ways.  Maybe he just wanted to grieve alone.  Some people are like that.  When they are hurting they just want folks to leave them alone, because they don’t think words or hugs will be of any help.

Maybe the crucifixion created a crisis of faith.  He had trusted in Jesus, believed in Jesus, and said he would follow Jesus anywhere but stopped short of the cross. Maybe all of his hopes and dreams were nailed to that tree.

I read a story once about a young woman called Virginia.  She was 19 years old and pregnant when she went to live with her 15th set of foster parents. Her case file read like a textbook example of neglect, abuse and bureaucratic failure. She sat silently in a chair, hands neatly clasped, staring into her lap. The foster parents, whose three children were in school, had been appraised of Virginia’s story and promised that this placement would be “temporary”. (Temporary was the story of Virginia’s life.)

Finally, the foster mother said, “Are you frightened, Virginia?”

“Kinda,” she replied without looking up. Then, “I’ve been in lots of homes.”

“Well,” the sympathetic woman tried to reassure the bewildered young mother-to-be, “Let’s hope this time turns out for the best.”

Virginia’s reply is one of those statements that sticks to your soul — it was flat, without change of tone and without Virginia even looking up. She said “Hurts too much to hope.”

Can you imagine?  Have you ever felt that way?   Have you ever felt like it hurts too much to hope? Thomas did.  He had trusted and believed in someone and committed himself to that person, but now his heart was broken and he didn’t ever want to feel like that again so he built a wall to protect himself. The bricks he used were what he could see and hear and touch.  That’s why he said, “Unless I can see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my hand in his side I will not believe.”  It hurts too much to hope so from now on he said he will only believe what he can see with his own eyes.  There would be no more room for faith in his broken heart.

Stephen Jay Gould was a renowned physicist at Harvard University.  I read a book he wrote called “Rock of Ages” which dealt with the conflict that often exists between faith and science, between what kids learn in Sunday School and what they learn in biology class.  He said often scientists will try to speak to faith questions of meaning and purpose which is beyond their scope and theologians will delve into science for which they are ill-equipped.  He said the two camps should just stay in their separate corners and try not to interact.

Well that’s easier said than done.  In fact in the same book and he described two great scientific thinkers who could not separate science from faith.  Charles Darwin is the father of the natural selection theory from which we get evolution and Thomas Huxley followed upon his work.  Both had grown up in the church and both fell away, Huxley a little farther than Darwin.  Gould said that although they used the language of science to explain their rejection of faith, it was really more personal than that.  Both lost young children at an early age and it was this great loss and the resulting questions: “Where was God” “How could God allow” that prompted agnosticism on Darwin’s part and atheism from Huxley.  It really had nothing to do with science at all.  It was for them a crisis of faith created by tragedy.

Head and heart for all of us in intertwined.  It was for Thomas and that’s why he would no longer trust his heart, but rely only on his head, his mind, and what his eyes could see and his hands could touch.  That’s the wall he built to protect himself, because it hurt too much to hope.

Maybe you’ve felt like that or maybe someone you care for feels like that and you don’t know how to get through to them, how to breach the wall, how to give them hope?

This is how the disciples did it.  Eight days later they decided to get together again and this time they specifically invited Thomas to join them.  Sometimes that’s all it takes – someone to take an interest, someone to extend an invitation.

Nearly every study I’ve ever seen says that number one reason people decide to visit a particular church is because someone they knew and trusted invited them. Just something like, “You know we got this great new preacher, tall, good looking, plays guitar”, why don’t you come with me next Sunday?”  This is more effective than a glitzy advertizing campaign or a whiz-bang website.  If someone you know and trust invites you some place the chances are greater that you will respond than if you had just received a form letter in the mail.  Churches that understand this principle are the churches that grow.

Well, that’s why Thomas was there this time.  Peter or James or John said, “Thomas we missed you. Hope you can come tonight.”  So Thomas did.  He came because his friends asked him to.

When he was there Jesus again appeared and stepped directly in front of Thomas and said, “Here I am, touch my hands, my feet, my side.”  Note – at no place does it say Thomas did touch his hands, his feet, and his side.  I’ve seen some dramatic paintings of Thomas poking his finger into the wound at Jesus’ side, but I don’t think he did because the Bible does not tell us he did.  I think he stopped short.

I think this is where the wall Thomas built around his heart began to crumble.  This is when Thomas’ hope was reborn.  This is where his faith was re-kindled.  This is when he re-discovered the power of belief, because Thomas declared, “My Lord and my God.”  There’s nothing about the resurrection that tells Thomas Jesus is God – he just knows.  He knows there is a difference between Lazarus whom Jesus raised and Jesus whom God raised. Touching Jesus side would not prove this – belief was all that mattered now.

Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.”  For some reason Jesus thinks believing without seeing is better than simply believing what you see.  Why would that be?

Have you ever gotten on an elevator and seen that the button for your floor was already lit, so you knew someone else had pushed it, but you push it again anyway?  Why did you do that?  Did you think that is going to make the elevator go faster?

Have you ever left on a trip and asked your spouse if he or she had checked all the doors to see if they were locked and even though he or she said they did and they were, you went around and checked them again anyway?  Why did you do that?

Did you not believe what your eyes could see or what your ears could hear?

In the gospel belief is equivalent to trust and trust is the foundation of every significant relationship.

Have you ever said something important, something that really mattered to someone close to you and have them respond, “I don’t believe you.”  How did you feel?  Did you take it as an accusation, “You’re lying, you’re not telling the truth?”  Did you think this person who I trusted doesn’t seem to trust me?  Did you wonder why?  Did that perceived lack of trust strengthen or erode the relationship?

That’s why the gospel always connects salvation with belief. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”, the Bible tells us.  “If you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart you will be saved.”  This kind of belief creates the faith foundation for your relationship with God.  You are saying, “I believe you Lord.”  I trust that you will always have my best interest at heart.

When Jesus said to Thomas, “touch my hands, my feet, my side”, Thomas declined because Jesus word was good enough for him.  Is God’s Word good enough for you or do you need more?  Do you need some sign from God, a small miracle perhaps, something you can see or hear or touch?  Most of us think faith would be easier if we could see God part the red sea, Jesus walk on the water, or turn water into wine, but if we did see any of these wonders we would want more.  We grow used to the miracle of the cell phone or internet or microwave and think nothing of them now.

That’s why Jesus said it is better to believe without seeing, because seeing is limited to what is right in front of you, but faith can reach everywhere and anywhere throughout all eternity.  Faith, the Bible tells us, “is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”  Faith is not bound by time or space.  It is not limited to what you can see or touch or hear.

So, if it feels like it hurts too much to hope, look to the one who still bears the nail scars upon his hands.  He knows your hurts.  He feels your pain.  By his stripes and his wounds you can be healed. So, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you can be saved.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 12:13)

 

“Help then, O Lord, our unbelief;

And may our faith abound,

To call on You when You are near,

And seek where you are found.”

Amen.[3]

 

 

 

[1] Mark 9:24

[2] Ephesians 1:18

[3] “We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight”. The Presbyterian Hymnal #399.

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